Suzuki V-Strom DL1050XT
Bike SA|December 2020
On a clear day you can see forever. The view from the summit of Oliviershoek Pass was simply breath taking.
Howie da Circumnavigator

On Friday at 06:00 the summer sun was already well above the horizon as I gunned the big Suzuki through the suburbs and onto the N3 south. It was perfect biking weather, windless and warm, with no rain forecast for the weekend. I had planned a 1200km day in the saddle and I had a rendezvous in Kokstad at 13:00 so there was no time to dawdle. Let’s get it on!

Earlier in the week I collected the V-Strom from the new Suzuki Auto headquarters in Frankenwald. Suzuki cars, marine engines and motorcycles are selling up a storm in SA and the new premises are twice the size of the previous HQ. There were three different coloured XT demo bikes parked in a row: Yellow, Black, and Glass Blaze Orange. The first two were handsome machines but the third was simply spectacular. You have to see the orange and white XT in the flesh to appreciate just how gorgeous the paint is. As I stood dribbling over the bike I had a flashback and realised that the lines of the XT and especially the beaklike front mudguard bore an uncanny resemblance to the 1988 Suzuki DR750S BIG which was based on the DR-Z racer ridden by Gaston Rahier in the Dakar and Pharaoh Rallies. The striking similarities between the BIG and the XT portray a proud legacy and suggest that Suzuki is serious about competing in the hotly contested >1000cc dual purpose adventure motorcycle segment. Spoked tubeless wheels – 19” front and 17” rear, long travel suspension, 160mm ground clearance, electronic engine management modes, multiple ABS and traction control settings, and a raunchy 1037cc liquid cooled, 90° V Twin, DOHC engine come together in an extremely photogenic and capable whole which is way greater than the sum of its parts. The XT is a serious contender and, as the Suzuki marketing blurb says, this is the bike that will empower you to “Go beyond your boundaries and expand your horizon.” I intended to do exactly that.

The N3 was busy and the fast lane was infested with twerps bumbling along at 123km/h so it was an easy decision to leave the freeway on the far side of Heidelberg and follow the rural roads to Balfour and Grootvlei. The road in the vicinity of the Grootvlei power station used to be a diabolical potholed death trap but these days it’s in reasonable condition because 26 wheel, 50 ton, interlink behemoths use the road to carry coal to the power station and the road is regularly maintained. South of the silos at Leeuspruit the R51 runs parallel to the N3. I set cruise control at maximum, 160km/h, and relaxed in the saddle as the XT bombed along with the mill spinning at an effortless 6000rpm. Paradoxically back roads are much faster than N routes because you don’t have to worry about cops and their revenue generating cameras. In Villiers I thought for a brief moment about hauling down the N3 but sanity prevailed. As I crossed the Vaal River I hooked left and then right onto the R103 and rode at speed past Cornelia and thence to Warden.

My objective for the weekend was to ride a lap around Lesotho. Warden was the start and end point of that lap and I was looking forward to riding mountainous terrain for the rest of the weekend. I stopped in Harrismith for breakfast and fuel. The XT proved to be remarkably fuel efficient. Home to Harrismith was 295km and the 20 litre tank took 18.2 litres yielding frugal consumption figures of 16.2km/l. It was just before 09:00 when I left Harrismith and I would have to be quick if I wanted to make Kokstad, approximately 450km distant, by 13:00. Past Sterkfontein Dam I rode at 180km/h, stopped at the summit of Oliviershoek Pass for photos, belted down the pass and made excellent time to Bergville, Winterton and Estcourt with the mighty ramparts of the Drakensberg looming large on the western horizon. On the N3 from Estcourt to Mooi River I had to decide whether to stay on the freeway or to ride the R103 through Rosetta, Nottingham Road and Lions River to Howick. On any other day I would have chosen the R103 for its scenery and challenging back roads riding but it would have taken 30 minutes longer than the N3. Between Mooi River and Howick I saw three manned speed traps and as many static cameras and half a dozen marked patrol cars. This was zero tolerance country. I cruised the N3 like a law abiding citizen and with some relief left the freeway south of Howick and followed the R617 southeast into the foothills of the Drakensberg.

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